arms and armour

arms and armour

How Thick Were La Tène Shields?

This century, researchers such as Roland Warzecha have worked to spread awareness that most round centergrip shields from the Baltic were rather thin in the centre and even thinner at the edges. An overall thickness, including wood, skins, and any intermediate layers, of about 8 mm in the centre and 4 mm at the edge is typical from the sacrifices at Illerup Ådal around 200 CE to late Viking Era graves around 1000 CE. We do not know as much about shields in dryer, warmer parts of Europe where it was not customary to deposit arms in lakes and bogs. But we can study the surviving shields from La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. If you read the original reports, you will learn many things which Peter Connolly did not tell you.

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What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

two bundles of planks on a yellow plastic deck chair. One bundle is longer thin white planks, the other is shorter thicker red planks
16 linear feet of 5/16″ thick tilia Americana (left) and 9 linear feet of 2″ thick alnus rubra (right)

People often guess that particular kinds of wood were used for shields in ancient Europe, including hard, dense woods like oak and soft, brittle woods like pine. But did you know that we can just examine the objects they left behind and see what woods the ancients used? Or that ancient writers tell us which woods are best for making shields and why? This week, I will list the woods used in some surviving ancient shields and then quote those ancient writers.

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Call For Sources: Spears in the Imperium Romanum

An intact spear and buckler from the famous excavations at La Tène, Switzerland. Planche II of P. Vouga, “La Tène: Quatrième Rapport, Foulles de 1910 et 1911,” Musée Neuchâtelois, XLIXme Année (1912) pp. 7-15 http://doc.rero.ch/record/12454

There are many great publications of Germanic, British, and Celtic spears. Are there any published spears from the imperium Romanum, especially the eastern half? Or from pre-imperial Italy? I’m curious about what woods were used, how the diameter varies from point to butt, and the overall length.

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The Scale Armour from Yanghai

a leather scale armour from an archaeological excavation, and a pattern drawing
The Yanghai armour. Figure 6 from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.11.014

Some comments on Patrick Wertmann et al., “No borders for innovations: A ca. 2700-year-old Assyrian-style leather scale armour in Northwest China.” Quaternary International, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.11.014 It has been discussed on Sci Newswww.spektrum.dehttps://www.media.uzh.ch/Science DailyHeritagedaily among others.

The cemetery at Yanghai in Uighur territory continues to give. This week, an article about hide scale armour in a grave there has been circulating on the Internet and corporate social media. The grave had other cool things, like a wooden bedstead and a wooden fire drill, but most of the attention has focused on the authors’ claims that the armour was made within the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Unfortunately, that claim is the weakest part of a strong article.

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Translating Fiore’s Armour Jargon Correctly

as a man in late medeival armour bends down to pull off his coat of mail, another man in armour stabs him in the flank with a sword
BGE Ms. fr. 190/1 Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes (painted in Paris around the year 1410) https://manuscriptminiatures.com/3991/10007

The self-taught scholars in the historical fencing world do many things well, but their translations of arms-and-armour terms are not always the best. A story from ancient Persia, how Artabanus murdered the king and his older sons and then was killed in turn by the young son he meant to use as a figurehead, helps us improve our translations. This story is available in the original Latin and in French and Italian translations written and illustrated during Fiore’s lifetime, so we can compare the Latin terms to the French or Italian terms to the paintings.

In Fiore’s sword in armour, both Tom Leoni and Colin Hatcher translate lo camaglio as “the mail coif.” It obviously means “camail: drape of mail hanging from a headpiece to protect the throat and the sides of the head.” Warriors in Fiore’s day no longer wore a complete hood of mail, but they often wore a camail to protect their faces and necks. In the picture above, two soldiers in the background have blue steel camails attached to their grey headpieces. Perhaps the blue indicates that the mail has been quenched in water and tempered by reheating to around 650-700 degrees Fahrenheit (Giambattista della Porta describes this in Natural Magic, book 13, chapter 4).

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Cross-Post: FS Geibig Erscheint

In honour of his retirement from Veste Coburg, a Festschrift for arms-and-armour scholar Alfred Geibig has been published. Contributions in English and ?German? are by Heiko Berger, Raphael Beuing, Dirk H. Breiding, Heiner Grieb, Heinz Huther, Armin König, Arne J. Koets, Stefan Mäder, Jürg A. Meier, Ingo Petri, Christopher Retsch, Mario Scalini, Tobias Schönauer, Jens... Continue reading: Cross-Post: FS Geibig Erscheint

How Long are the Spears of the Warriors at Susa?

A glazed brick relief of a man holding a spear in both hands next to a clenched fist.  The fist gripping the spear and the live fist are aboout the same size.
One of the polychrome brick reliefs from Achaemenid Susa, now in the Louvre, Paris.

In an earlier post, I talked about the guards in Persian reliefs from Susa who are 17 bricks tall and have spears 19 or 21 bricks tall. Artists often ‘improve’ human proportions according to different ideas of what the well-formed body looks like: these guards are 5 2/3 bearded faces tall (17/3), Cennino Cennini would have them 6 1/2 bearded faces tall (26/4).

When I visited the Louvre in July I had a chance to look at some of those reliefs for the first time since 2016 (a few are on display behind glass in Tehran). As you see, my hand and the hand of the sculpture are about the same size (and I am not particularly tall or short). My hand is slightly closer to the camera than the sculpture is, so it is slightly enlarged.
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Photographs Showing How a Helmet is Made

22 black and white photos of a helmet being worked from a simple plate of steel into a visored and polished and engraved and gilt form
Series of steps in the construction of a close helm in the Greenwich style of about 1580 by Daniel Tachaux. Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1915, as reprinted in Robert Douglas Smith ed., Make All Sure: The Conservation and Restoration of Arms and Armour (Basiliscoe Press: Leeds, 2006) p. 108 publisher’s website

I encourage you to click on the photo above and see it at full size. This is not a source for how real 16th century armour was made (and an expert tells me that its not a very good replica), but how Daniel Tachaux made a replica during the First World War.

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An Outline of Toby Capwell’s “Armour of the English Knight”

A folding slip of corrugated cardboard with a printed label carrying the address, over a green nylon bag a metre long and 50 cm wide labeled Swiss Post
Courier firms work in mysterious ways: Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450 in its double packaging

Tobias Capwell, Armour of the English Knight, 1400-1450 (Thomas Del Mar: London, 2015)
308 pages, 24 x 30 cm
All glossy paper, most pages contain at least one line drawing or colour photo
ISBN 978-0-9933246-0-4
GBP 54 (UK, France, Germany, Italy), 64 (other countries) including shipping and handling; I don’t see any reason to believe that it will ever be available from other sellers or in softcover.
Link to publisher’s online storeLink to publisher’s new online storelink to online store with volume 2 AOTEK 1450-1500

After five years of anticipation, the first volume of the results of the inquiries of Toby Capwell into English armour began to arrive at customers’ doors in the middle of October. For reasons which seem good to them, the publisher and author have made very little information about the book available on their website. For quite a few buyers, “a book on English armour by Toby Capwell with drawings by Mac and Jeff Wasson” was all they needed to know. But for those who are on the fence, or waiting for their copy to arrive, I thought it would be helpful to sketch out the sort of things which this volume contains.

This book has a diverse audience. I will do my best to say things which I think armourers and armoured fighters would like to know, then give my own academic thoughts. But this is definitely not a review, and I refuse to find something to quibble about. Since I do not even dabble in fifteenth-century history, there would not be much point. I also refuse to give a summary since this book is newly published.

This is a study of full harnesses in a distinctive style worn by extremely rich men in England and Wales in the early fifteenth century. The main source is effigy sculptures, but documents, literature, funerary brasses, manuscript illuminations, and other kinds of medieval evidence are used to supplement them. The author’s experience as a jouster, and his helpers’ experience making plate armour, are also used to help interpret the sources.

The contents are divided into four parts. First is an introduction which sets the effigies in context in fifteenth-century England and discusses the problems of studying a style of armour which has all been destroyed (52 pages long). Then there are two sections on armour in the periods 1400-1430 (136 pages long) and 1430-1450 (75 pages long), each broken down by part of the body (helmets, cuirasses, shoulder defenses, vambraces, gauntlets, leg armour, sabatons). Last comes a miscellaneous section with a conclusion, the author’s experiences wearing armour in the English style, a bibliography, a list of effigies divided into six styles, a glossary, and two short indices (total 45 pages).

This miscellaneous section contains 25 pages on the famous blackened and gilt harness which he commissioned from Mac, and his experiences planning it, having it built, jousting in it, and having it modified.

A photo of an open book with a photo of a statue of a recumbent man in armour on the verso and a group of pencil sketches, four photos of details, and a paragraph of commentary on the recto opposite
Pages 204 and 205 of Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450. Full-page colour photos of important sources, closeup colour photos of details, pencil sketches, written commentary. As always, click to enlarge.

All pages are glossy, and some contain double-page spreads of important manuscripts, effigies, paintings, etc. Many of these images are not available online, and all the photos are printed in higher resolution than normal computer screens can display.

There are a series of line drawings by Mac of six typical harnesses representing six styles of English armour. Each is sketched from front, side, and rear for maximum clarity, and each of these views fills half a page.

There are a number of comments by Mac on specific technical problems which armourers in the fifteenth century faced, and how this might have affected the armour that they built.

There are pages of pencil sketches by Jeff Wasson with structural diagrams of different styles of armour and details of motifs, borders, etc. Individual sketches are scattered throughout the book alongside the closeup photos of details.

So for armourers, this is 300 pages on the development of armour in England with photos and sketches of details and suggestions of how to reconstruct it. For armoured fighters, this is 300 pages on the development of armour in England with suggestions of the advantages and disadvantages of different choices. And for academics, this is 300 pages of analysis of armour in England as a social tool and as a martial tool. While the publishers could make it easier and cheaper to buy and quicker and cheaper to deliver, and while this is a specialized book, I think it does what it tries to do very well. Although the shipping is a bit slow and expensive, the basic book is quite cheap for its size and complexity, especially considering that it will not sell thousands of copies. And everything about the physical book is professional.

Now I will put my academic hat back on and say why I think this book is important. Even though I can’t really afford it, and even though my dabblings in medieval history focus on late 14th century Italy rather than early 15th century England, I pre-ordered a copy. This was because I knew two things about this book.
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